The biggest show in town this week was at the Park Board office in Stanley Park where a few Park Board Commissioners turned a simple request to approve the terms of reference for a mobility feasibility study into what could be perceived as an unfortunate highly emotional American style political spectacle.
By American style politics the referral is to thinking of things as individuals instead of ascertaining what is best for all and working collectively with the other Parks Board Commissioners.
Since this was the last Park Board meeting before the Civic Election on October 15, 2022, the two NPA members of the Park Board swerved the meeting to represent their own point of view, instead of the collective interests of the Park Board.
The two NPA commissioners, John Coupar (who is also the candidate for mayor for the NPA) and Trisha Barker (who is running again for Park Commissioner for the NPA) have fiercely advocated to have the 11 kilometers of Park Drive returned to a two lane vehicular driving route through Stanley Park. During the pandemic Park Drive was firstly closed to vehicles, but allowed bicycles, and then shared one of the lanes with cyclists.
At the time of the road closure, Mr. Coupar cited that such a closure to vehicles was unsupported. In actual fact it was Dr. Bonnie Henry the Province’s Medical Health Officer that agreed with the closure. Remember this was in March 2020 to June 2020 when how Covid-19 was spread was not well known.
With increased use of the park during the pandemic by walkers, rollers and cyclists, a temporary bike lane was implemented to provide more space for physical distancing. Anyone walking or biking along the seawall can attest to the pinch points along these routes which brought people uncomfortably too close together.
Given the increasing density of Vancouver and the importance of Stanley Park for recreation and access, it only made sense for a Mobility Feasibility Study to be conducted by Park Board staff to take a look at usage in the park, figure out how people were getting around, identify what was happening internationally and suggest some alternatives for mobility in the future. Nowhere in the Feasibility Study is it mentioned that the road network in Stanley Park will be closed to vehicle drivers.
It was at this stage, when the Mobility Feasibility Study was brought back to the Park Board Commissioners for a review of the seven guiding principles outlined here, that the two NPA Commissioners went off in a quibbling tangent.
The purpose of this report was to review the principles for the study, nothing else.
But in American style politics, the NPA Commissioners turned this into a fight for the right to drive in the park, as if this report was going to turn around vehicles at the Stanley Park border. People were signed up as an “NPA” event to speak about the right to drive through the park as if approving these seven principles banished motordom.
Nothing could be further from the truth. How can you plan for future use of a park if you cannot even get the principles of the study discussed? But in filibustering American style speakers wanted to talk about the existing bike lane on Park Drive, which has nothing to do with the approving of principles for a mobility feasibility study.
These members of the public had probably not read the 94 page report, taking it on good faith from the NPA leadership that this was their chance to talk about the bike lane. The chair of the Park Board adjourned the meeting on Monday to Tuesday, giving the General Manager of the Park Board time to sort out the Commissioners on what was being discussed: namely the seven principles of the Mobility Feasibility Study. There was also ground rules instituted on deportment for all those speakers responding to the NPA call.
On Tuesday the meeting was reconvened. After hearing the many speakers, some who off-roaded on the purpose of the report but did so largely respectfully, it was time for the Commissioners to vote.
The vote to accept the principles of the Mobility Feasibility Study passed 5 to 2, with NPA’s Mr. Coupar and Ms. Barker dissenting.
Mr. Coupar in his closing statement rued that the cones of the temporary bike lane “compromised enjoyment of the park”.
Ms. Barker wanted accessibility to be the number one objective instead of safety, and stated that the over 4,000 surveyed for data in the feasibility study did not compare to the 17 million people that used the park.
Ms. Barker’s interpretation of the numbers is not correct. In actual fact there were 17 million VISITS by 9.5 million people, with 48 percent of those people visiting living within ten kilometers of the park. That 48 percent visit the park many times and use it as their main park.
There was also no discussion about the draft horse in the room which could easily improve vehicular flow in an instant on Park Drive. But famous actor/songwriter/animal activist Jann Arden added it in on twitter:
The operator of the horse tram business in Stanley Park has a four decade monopoly on horse operations, and spoke during this meeting about his preference to be in the bike lane instead of the vehicular traffic lane, which would speed up vehicular traffic. The bigger question is of course whether it is time to put the colonial practice of working horses all day on paved roads out to pasture, and of course provide less congestion.
The Mobility Feasibility Study will report back early next year on findings and recommendations, to a newly elected Park Board.
Stanley Park is a city park, although the businesses that operate in it do not cater to local people. There is a balance between being an attraction and being a local serving park, when the need to physically and mentally get into nature is paramount for residents. Revenue from park businesses fund part of the ongoing services of the Park Board. The City of Vancouver taxpayer ponies up the rest.
Mario Canseco of Research.co conducted a survey in June 2022 finding that 52 percent of people want to see the Park Board eliminated. This is the last Park Board in Canada, where there is a separate paid staff and paid elected officials that do one thing: manage parks. An outside consultant’s civic management report prepared over a decade ago suggested it was time for that body to be abolished because of a duplication of staff and services.